Key West Voters Approve Three Referendums to Limit Cruise Visits

In Tuesday's election, Key West, FL, voters approved three ballot referendums to limit visitation or eliminate visits by cruise ships carrying more than 1,300 passengers. Legal action, however, is expected to continue. Months ago, a local pier operator sued the referendum group the Key West Committee for Cleaner, Safer Ships, as well as the City of Key West over the ballot initiative. A jury trial is planned in the coming weeks.

The island port of call is important for cruise itinerary development, as when any cruises from U.S. ports begin in early 2021, they can only be seven nights or less in length, per new rules by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, for sailings from Florida ports, such as Port Canaveral or PortMiami, the world’s largest cruise port, cruise lines will need to find "close to home" ports for destination calls beyond their own Bahamian private island destinations. Key West would be a popular option in such an instance.

Travel Agent asked Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the official cruise industry trade group, for comment on the referendum results but as yet have not received a response.

Referendum Results 

The referendums passed with 60 percent or more of the vote. The Key West Committee for Cleaner, Safer Ships pushed for the need to curtail cruise ship visits based on environmental and cultural reasons. 

In contrast, pro-cruise voters were opposed to referendums and limitations, primarily because of the strong economic benefits that ship calls mean for local businesses.

Here's what voters were asked: 

  • Should the city limit the number of daily cruise ships visitors at 1,500? The initiative passed with an estimated 63 percent of the vote.
  • Should the city prohibit cruise ships with 1,300 or more passengers from docking? This would prevent ships from such lines as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and other lines from docking and letting guests go ashore. Approximately 60 percent of the voters agreed.
  • Should Key West should give docking priority to cruise lines with the best health and environmental records? Some 81 percent of voters said “yes.”

Legal Action 

With the voting results, the city charter must immediately be changed. Still, it’s expected that there will be continuing legal action. Operating one of three ports in the city, Pier B Development is already suing the city and the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships.

Pier B in partnership with the Key West Bar Pilots Association had hoped to remove the questions from the ballot but the request was denied in federal court several months ago as the judge said the plaintiffs couldn’t show they were suffering harm from the questions being placed on the ballot.

The plaintiffs also were rebuffed in Monroe County Circuit Court, but that court’s Judge Bonnie Elms said in her ruling that a jury trial could proceed after the election.

The situation in Key West is highly watched by port activists across the globe seeking to curb cruise traffic elsewhere.

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